'The Earth at Night in Color' – Creatures of the night come alive
Most people’s experience with nocturnal animal behavior extends to a screech from the woods or a critter ransacking their trash. But “The Earth at Night in Color” paints the whole brilliant picture of what really happens after the sun sets.
Premiering Friday, Dec. 4, on Apple TV+, the documentary series follows camera crews to six continents to capture previously unseen and, in some cases, unknown animal behaviors using next-generation equipment, low-light photography and painstaking postproduction. So in the six episodes, viewers will be treated to scenes such as a lioness searching for her missing cub on Kenya’s Masai Mara grasslands, tiny primates tarsiers foraging for food while protecting their babies in Indonesia, peregrine falcons on the hunt amid the skyscrapers of Chicago and a young brown bear clashing with wolves in the boreal forests of Europe.
Of course, any wildlife photographer will tell you waiting for the right shot to develop on a snowy hillside or a grassy plain takes an investment of days or weeks and a lot of patience and endurance but “Earth” executive producer Alex Williamson (“Big Beasts: Last of the Giants”) says those challenges are multiplied tenfold when working at night.
“Just finding the animals is difficult enough,” he says, “so just knowing which direction to point the cameras can be tough. Focus, following them. The animals are more skittish. I think the animals are not expecting humans to be out there during the night so they’re much more wary.
“We have one scene that followed pumas in Patagonia over many months,” he continues, “and (the film crew) walked on foot. So when we’re filming lions, obviously you film from the safety of a Land Rover. They followed the big cats on foot over the mountains and through the night for night after night, and getting close to those big predatory cats is not for the faint-hearted.”
Another challenge, Williamson says, was the dearth of light. Low-light photography can do only so much so shoots were planned in the week around full moons. But sometimes nature wouldn’t cooperate.
“If the clouds come in, it kills the exposure for the night and you can’t film anything,” he says. “And typically when the clouds come in, the animals come out and do the most incredible things and you can’t film it because it’s too dark.”
But when the shots worked, the results were eye-opening. Williamson recalls one scene in Kenya involving sibling cheetahs that fell right into his lap.
“We had gotten some reports of these two brothers who were hunting at night, (they) had never been filmed before successfully,” he says. “And we went out there and in fact we were following a pride of lions and the cheetahs started hunting right next to our car. So we started following these brothers and we captured the first ever successful cheetah hunt by moonlight.
“And it turns out that they’re really, really vulnerable, skittish cats and they get bossed around and bullied around by hyenas and lions after dark. So there’s a total kind of new side to cheetahs that we had never really realized existed.”